SPORTS

Song makes history as first Chinese-born player drafted by NHL team

06/27/2015 01:34 EDT | Updated 06/27/2016 05:59 EDT
SUNRISE, Fla. - Andong Song grew up in China, playing hockey on short-track speed-skating loops because there were only two rinks in Beijing at the time.

"The section in the middle would be all concrete," Song said. "They would section off that part of the track, put ice in there, then shoot pucks around. We had to improvise growing up."

On Saturday he became the first Chinese-born player to be drafted into the NHL when the New York Islanders selected him with the 172nd pick. Song, who moved to Oakville, Ont., at age 10 and then New Jersey for prep school at 15, is embracing his place in history.

"Being the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home and good pressure," Song said. "That'll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully make them proud."

Song, a six-foot-one, 194-pound defenceman who idolized and models his game after Nicklas Lidstrom, started playing at age 6. He kept getting sick, so his mother wanted to get him involved in sports, and hockey was the choice.

Captain of his team at a young age, Song won a tournament in Canada and his family made the decision to move to the Toronto area to further his pursuit of hockey. He starred for the Oakville Rangers before moving on to Lawrence Academy prep school.

Song had an idea the Islanders would take him, so he had some time to ponder being the first Chinese player to get drafted. He spends summers in Beijing and has a good appreciation of how much hockey has grown there since he was a child.

"When I started playing, there weren't a lot of people playing. There wasn't much support for the game," Song said. "But last year when I went back ... it's just been tremendous how far they've grown.

"I'm sure they'll keep trying to catch up to North America and Europe and Russia. There's still a little gap between them. I'm sure if we focus on hockey, we can definitely catch up."

Song hopes to be a part of that effort, which will be helped if Beijing gets the 2022 Winter Olympics.

"That would really just boost the entire support for the game, and if we can rally up some people to start playing the game, that will generate some support and hopefully that'll get the nation going," Song said.

Song is set to attend prep school in Boston next year and wants to play at the NCAA level after that. The sixth-round pick got a small taste of the NHL spotlight as he was followed around by a Chinese camera crew at BB&T Center on his draft day.

"It feels like I'm a star already," Song said with a smile. "Long way to go."

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